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We Need To Talk About Kevin Star Ezra Miller Talks About Kevin, Celebrity, and Working with Tilda Swinton

Ezra Miller stars with Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin, currently playing at Harkins Camelview.
Ezra Miller stars with Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin, currently playing at Harkins Camelview.
Oscilloscope Pictures

It is probably only a natural result of the historical arc of democratization that celebrity today requires little more than Tweeting racy photos and being combatively untalented. 


In this new-media model of fame, Ezra Miller is decidedly out of place: a relic of the Old World hierarchies - like the absurdly admirable pedigree of the cast of The Vampire Diaries - who speaks more to an era when we believed that those with fame and fortune were actually, if only a little, better than the rest of us.
 

The 19-year-old Miller, an indie darling for his deft portrayal of conflicted teens in films like City Island, is currently the talk of Tinseltown for his chilling turn as Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Impossibly well-spoken, Miller combines a keen intellectual curiosity with the striking bone structure and tussled, devil-may-care looks of a Calvin Klein Model - quite likely the image Plato had in mind when describing his philosopher kings.

We spoke with Miller about the film, working with Tilda Swinton (who portrays Kevin's mother), and why he calls his generation "rather monstrous."


So what drew you to the role of Kevin?

Essentially, just this incredibly complicated human being, incredibly challenging to understand...came from a primal place that I could understand, that I felt I had a channel into. And it was just sort of an exciting prospect to play a role like that, which in the context of this film, in the way it was written, clearly showcased its brilliance and how thoroughly involving and demanding this film would be. So it was kind of just one of those dreamy moments when you read a script and realize that you have the tools and the capacity to properly contribute to the collaboration of making this work of art possible. And then really just, you know, trying to prove that to everyone became the process thereafter for about two years...I auditioned maybe six times to prove that I could properly contribute to what was going to be such a great work of art.

Miller, as Kevin, with his bow and arrows.  Miller took archery lessons to prepare for the role.
Miller, as Kevin, with his bow and arrows. Miller took archery lessons to prepare for the role.
Oscilloscope Pictures

How did you prepare for the role?

You know, it came down to a lot of time spent alone and brooding. Also I took some archery lessons...and I spent a long time sort of going through the moments of this kid's life, both the ones in the story and others, trying to build the formative timeline to understand where his needs and wants come from and how they grow over time. It was a great film to do that with because I had two younger actors who were bringing some of those moments and reality to life, and so the reality of the character was kind of fleshed out to a remarkable degree. That was what I just really tried to marinate in and just become saturated with as much as I could before we took on the present.

 

What was it like working with Tilda Swinton?

It's tricky; I'm asked this question often. Very, very difficult to describe. It was amazing. It was just mind-bending in the true sense of the word in that it completely transformed my image of the possibilities of how this art form can be achieved. Because she approaches it in this direct way of allowing herself to be a marionette to the puppet master of not only the director but to every individual moment within a scene. She's guided by her innermost forces and yet is able to completely oblige the wishes and directions of the outermost sources. And it was an incredible thing to watch and sort of a learning experience that I'll never be able to shake. And she's also just a wonderful human being who it was really lovely to be able to spend time with.

Kevin (Miller) and Eva (Swinton) share an awkward dinner after a round of miniature golf.
Kevin (Miller) and Eva (Swinton) share an awkward dinner after a round of miniature golf.
Oscilloscope Pictures

Do you think that Kevin saw a side of his mother that others didn't?

Yes, certainly. I think he more than anything is constantly aware of the times when she erects a facade in order to navigate her life. He has a deep awareness of her sort of true self because he is derived from it and feels that he is a part of it and almost a representation of it for her - this aspect of her being that she never wants to confront that he feels he has inherited. So yeah, I think that's one of the points of absolute tension between them is that there is this ugliness in a reality that they share that he is so desperate to confront, probably in response to the fact that she is so desperate to subvert and to hide from that reality of herself and of him.

Did your understanding of the characters and the story change at all after watching the final product?

I think the further along in the process I got - and certainly once I'd been removed from the character for a while and was no longer caught up in his sense of vindictive purpose - was when the character in hindsight really appeared more and more tragic, to be sort of a tragic figure in the Greek sense in that he will be conquered by his own purposes and his own flawed attempts to bring truth into the circumstances of his life.

 

That last scene between Kevin and Eva is just so powerful. Could you give us a little insight into what it was like shooting that?

It was a heightened moment for me because it was in many ways what not only the entire story but the entire shoot crescendo-ed towards. We shot that scene last and it was very important to find that character at that moment struggling to maintain a facade as that facade slips and we encounter, even if briefly, what's underneath, and what the true motivation has been for this character all along. Those are kind of hefty revelations to try and pull off in a single scene, so it was definitely a tense moment of great demand for me, which was made infinitely easier in that [director Lynne Ramsay] refused to allow us to break for lunch in the middle of the scene and decried a few various people in just driving right through that scene and really allowing us to find it and then shooting it until it was done. I remember when they called lunch and she saw the look in my eyes she raised hell to ensure that we could shoot right through. And something that was such a great challenge was made easier by all the incredible artists surrounding me who gave me everything I needed and more, and it certainly was made infinitely easier by the fact that Tilda was carrying that scene moment to moment with her demanding presence. It was very intense stuff, the type of thing where you maybe sort of wake up after it's over and realize that you've been worrying about it for two years and now it's done.

The off-kilter framing of Kevin only adds to the sense of uneasiness and tension created by Miller's performance.
The off-kilter framing of Kevin only adds to the sense of uneasiness and tension created by Miller's performance.
Oscilloscope Pictures

Thinking back to Kevin's television interview in the film, do you think there's a message about the current state of our celebrity culture?

Yeah, I think there's...maybe not a message...but a question raised to the way we sensationalize these people for all sorts of various reasons, not necessarily linked into any sort of ethical code or desire to depict anything outside of extremity in human situations, and how in doing so we give people who commit horrible acts a pedestal and a point of power that then inspires further horrible acts because there's a knowledge that it will merit such attention. More and more human beings are acting in extreme ways not necessarily tied into their emotional realities simply because they know it will garner them fame and attention, which has become sort of a pinnacle desire of our culture.

 

An enthusiastic fan of Edgar Allan Poe (his favorite is "The Pit and the Pendulum"), Miller hopes to one day play the macabre author.
An enthusiastic fan of Edgar Allan Poe (his favorite is "The Pit and the Pendulum"), Miller hopes to one day play the macabre author.
Oscilloscope Pictures

You referred to your generation in another interview as "rather monstrous." What did you mean by that?

I think we've got a lot to contend with, and I think there's an element to specifically my generation...where we feel there's so much drastic going on in the world and we live in such heightened, extreme times, and yet so often we're brought up in environments that don't reflect that truth of the world right now, and also in many ways don't reflect our internal experience, which is that the adolescent experience is one of great tumult. And I think that when our environment doesn't echo our internal experience, we act out in an attempt to create some sort of equilibrium. And I think that is what has put us in the position of sort of monstrifying ourselves again and again just to try and have our outsides match out internal spirit.

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